Metro Weekly

Jeff Sessions plans to issue guidance on religious liberty protections

Transcript of Attorney General's speech to conference of anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom released

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions – Photo: Gage Skidmore.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated that the Trump administration may allow the devoutly religious to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

In a closed-door speech given to anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Sessions promised to issue guidance outlining how the Department Of Justice will interpret statutes such as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Sessions’ remarks, published by the online site The Federalist, implied that the Trump administration will give greater deference to people who claim their religious liberty is being violated when they are not allowed to practice their faith, even if it infringes on another person’s rights.

For example, it would allow a baker to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding by citing his religious beliefs opposing homosexuality, which is the basis for a case involving Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop that is slated to be heard by the Supreme Court.

ADF is representing Jim Phillips, the baker in that case, and has been behind many challenges of pro-LGBTQ laws and policies throughout the nation.

“Our concepts of religious freedom came to us through the development of the Western heritage of faith and reason,” Sessions said in his speech. “In America, Madison and Jefferson advanced those concepts. Their victory was to declare religious freedom to be a matter of conscience inherent in each individual, not as a matter of toleration granted from the top.”

Sessions reiterated complaints made by socially conservative organizations, like ADF, that the cultural climate has become hostile to people of faith. He also said that many voters who backed President Trump in last year’s election did so because of his promise to protect their right to freely practice their faith.

“In all of this litigation and debate, this Department of Justice will never allow this secular government of ours to demand that sincere religious beliefs be abandoned,” Sessions says. “We will not require American citizens to give intellectual assent to doctrines that are contrary to their religious beliefs. And they must be allowed to exercise those beliefs as the First Amendment guarantees.

“This administration, and the upcoming guidance, will be animated by that same American view that has led us for 241 years: that every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith in the public square,” he concluded. “It has served this country well, and it has made us not only one of the tolerant countries in the world, it has also helped make us the freest and most generous.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com